VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY)– Police-worn body cameras give a firsthand look into crimes, hold officers accountable, and strengthen trust between law enforcement and the community.
But on the back end, Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney, Colin Stolle, says the amount of time it takes to watch that footage is putting a strain on prosecutor’s offices across the state.
He says prior to body cameras, it used to take up to an hour to prepare for one case. Now, it can take up to 5 hours.
“Everybody thinks all you have to do is watch this little snippet, watch that snippet, they may be what makes TV, but that’s not what is properly preparing your case. There have been DUI stops that have produced 18 hours of body camera footage,” said Stolle.
It’s been over a year since all the Virginia Beach Police department’s sworn personnel were equipped with body cameras.
Prosecutors are responsible for watching body camera footage for any criminal matter.
The same goes for defense attorneys, public defenders, and private council.
“Last year alone, Virginia Beach police sent to my office over 21,000 hours of body camera footage we had to watch,” said Stolle. “It can be overwhelming at times…Don’t get me wrong, I think body cameras are a good thing. I think it’s reassuring to the public that their law enforcement officers have body cameras.”
“You can’t put a price tag on transparency and that their officers are conducting things how they should. But at the same time, it does have other effects in the process.”
Stolle says his office has already noticed a pattern of continuances in court cases. If the funding doesn’t happen soon to handle the increased workload, he says he’s not required to prosecute misdemeanors, only felonies.
“Then I have to start making some tough decision as to whether I have a prosecutor in DUI cases, if I have a prosecutor in domestic violence cases,” Stolle stated.
Stolle says the city has supported his office with additional attorneys and staff to try and deal with it– but it’s simply not enough.
“If a locality decides to have body cameras, they need to anticipate funding the offices that are a higher level in order to deal with that. We have lost multiple staff members over the last couple of years, we have lost multiple attorneys all because of the pressures due to the body camera footage,” explained Stolle.
Stolle says currently, the state budget requires funding if localities deploy body cameras. That’s one new prosecutor for every 75 body cameras that are in use to help alleviate some of the pressures.
He says that’s only a band-aid.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Association is currently conducting a time study by the National Center of State Courts, funded by the General Assembly through the Virginia Compensation Board.
Part of that time study includes viewing the body-worn cameras. The report is expected to come out in March.
Stolle’s hope is that they can take the results to the general assembly to explain where offices are failing, and ultimately get the funding they need.